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Converting Fear Into Inspired Action

Lori West 23 Mar 2016
Have you ever found yourself in a situation in which you feel stuck, your hands seemingly tied until decisions are made elsewhere? Is it compromising your leadership?

Feeling stuck is a frustrating place to be. Perhaps you feel things are completely out of your control, or you’re reluctant to speak up and make demands upon people within the organisation.

So, what do you do? Do you just ride out the situation? Do you kick up a fuss? Do you walk away with head buried in hands?

You could do all of those things. Heaven knows people have responded to impasses in the workplace in these ways before, and it’s completely understandable. Familiar even. But, will it accomplish what needs to be accomplished?

No, and here’s why. Each of these strategies is based on fear. Yes, fear.

It’s a common misconception that fear is an intense feeling. Of course, if you’re walking down a dark, deserted alley alone late at night, it’s likely you’ll feel fear at its most potent, with a racing heart and sweaty palms and all the other physiological symptoms usually associated with fear.

What’s not so common is the understanding that any thinking that limits you is based in fear. Your body may not react strongly to your fear-based thoughts. In fact, you may be able to rationalise these thoughts to the extent that they seem the best course of action.

And yet, you remain stuck.

To move things forward, it is important to recognise the role that fear is playing as the basis of your thinking and to determine its validity given the situation.

Let me share with you how this works in practice.

I recently worked with a team at a not-for-profit organisation. The organisation was undergoing a necessary corporate restructure, but this created considerable uncertainty for the employees at ground level. Lack of clarity and sporadic, unreliable communication from the head office to the satellite offices exacerbated the situation, leaving people concerned for themselves, their volunteers and their service users.

Understandably, employees felt concerned about the lack of decision-making, which threatened to undermine their ability to serve the community. A fatalistic mindset crept in. Frustration and anger were rife, and these strong emotions danced with the compassionate understanding of the pressure that the folks in head office were under to resolve the situation that caused the unrest.

They were stuck between a rock and a hard place, so to speak, and no one knew what to do.

We explored what was REALLY going on under the surface. Fears of being judged, of being out of control, of appearing pushy and of looking stupid for asking for help rose to the surface. Now, not a single person hyperventilated as they expressed these fears, but each person could see how their own expression of fear in this situation stopped them from taking action.

It was fear that kept them in a place of stalemate as they waited for someone in head office to make a move. But, here’s the good news. As soon as they brought their fears to the surface and assessed them logically, they were able to acknowledge the irrationality of their fears.

This one small act, of acknowledging that fear was at the base of their inaction, opened up new avenues of possibility for them. They worked together to come up with solutions to the stalemate, seeing that their ideas could support the team at head office and other satellite offices experiencing the same frustrations. In less than an hour, the team moved from being stuck to feeling empowered to resolve the situation themselves, creating a list of actions they each could take to smooth the transition.

Flow returned. Possibilities for making things work presented themselves. The atmosphere lightened up. The team found their spark again, but they found more than that. They got in touch with the source of their leadership. They realised that it wasn’t necessary to wait for orders. They could take initiative, be pro-active and resolve the situation not just for themselves, but for the organisation.

How did they achieve this? They achieved this by:
  • getting to the fear that lay at the root of the issue, and

  • being responsible for the fear-based thinking that created the experience of stuck-ness in the first place.

When things are going well, it’s easy to roll with the tide, but when things aren’t going well, it’s very easy to slide into limitation. In these moments, strong leadership that calls for seeing beyond the limitations is what organisations need. In order to do that, a leader must be able to transcend his or her own limited thinking. This requires a capacity for authentic self-reflection and a commitment to self mastery.

It’s self mastery, especially when times are tough, that generates inspired decision-making, which in turn inspires others to act above and beyond the call of duty.

This is the fuel that fires authentic leadership brilliance.

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